Before I start this blog post, I’ll bet that you have no idea:
- where Te Urewera is, and
- how to pronounce it!
Well, Te Urewera is located in the Hawke’s Bay region on the North Island of New Zealand, between Rotorua and Gisborne, and it’s pronounced kinda like ‘tee-ur-eh-where-a’… I think. Māori words are hard! – Please correct me if I’m wrong!
Te Urewera covers 2127m2 of lush rainforest and is home to Ngai Tuhoe, a native Māori tribe, known as the ‘Children of the Mist’. Although I hate to use a cliché, it’s ‘off the beaten track’; it’s a rarely frequented part of the country, probably because the only means of access is by a very long, narrow, winding, unsealed (gravel) road. Unless you drive a 4×4, you’ll probably – like us – be travelling at a top speed of 40kph for most of the journey. Oh, and watch out for wandering livestock!
Te Urewera is one of my favourite areas in New Zealand. It gives you an insight into what New Zealand was like before the huge influx of Pakeha (European New Zealanders) arrived in the early 1800s. According to my Lonely Planet guidebook, the name itself still makes Pakeha feel uneasy; the Tuhoe are proud of their identity and traditions, they have a rich history of Maori resistance and they never signed the Treaty of Waitangi, which is the agreement/ compromise between the Maori chiefs and the British Crown, signed in 1840, that basically founded modern NZ. The area used to be an official National Park, which was established in 1954 and was disestablished just two years ago when the current legal entity ‘Te Urewera’ replaced it – basically, the local tribe regained the area from the Crown (government), however the DOC still maintains many of the walking tracks.
As you enter the park you’ll see a few settlements of Māori people and the occasional marae (Maori meeting house). But, travelling deeper into the rainforest, you soon realise there’s not much else to the park itself besides stunning lakes, gushing waterfalls, a few walking tracks and lots of native wildlife. This is exactly the reason why I loved it.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know I’m partial to a good bush walk in New Zealand. I adored the Waitakere, up near Auckland, as much as the bush in the Catlins. New Zealand’s forests are dense, lush and SO green. But somehow, I felt that Te Urewera gives you even more than that… you feel completely alone, at one with nature… Te Urewera is remote, it’s mysterious, it’s wild.
Due to our pretty strict itinerary for the North Island, James and I only spent one night in Te Urewera, though it doesn’t make the itinerary for many travellers unfortunately. For me, even though the journey to get there was long, and the weather wasn’t the best, a day in Te Urewera was so worth it. We arrived in the early evening; the following morning we were the first campers to leave the campsite, full of energy from our porridge and raring to go in our hiking boots. I started the day in my leggings and raincoat and got changed into my shorts and slathered on the sun cream after lunch – be prepared for all weather! We spent the day lost in the bush, marvelling at the waterfalls and hiking some great tracks.
Here’s a little insight into what you could get up to in Te Urewera.
Lake Waikeremoana Great Walk
Length: 46km one way | Duration: 3-4 days | Difficulty: Intermediate
Although the National Park isn’t greatly frequented, it is home to one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks. The Lake Waikeremoana track follows the shorelines through towering native trees, offering spectacular views of the water. The track is not a loop, but can be walked in either direction, with access from Onepoto and Hopuruahine. Trampers should be adequately equipped with the right gear and care should be taken year-round as temperatures can unexpectedly drop very low and rainfall is likely, even in summer. There are DOC campsites and huts along the track which must be booked in advance – visit the DOC website to do so.
Lake Waikareiti Track
Length: 3.5km one way | Duration: 1 hour one way | Difficulty: Intermediate
This track climbs 300m to a day shelter at Lake Waikareiti, offering a good view of the lake (here’s where the fog decided to appear for us). From here, you can take a row boat on the water to explore the lake even further (these must be hired from the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre). The track is well-graded and passes through a beech forest with Rimu trees towering above the canopy. If you’re lucky you’ll spot some native birds such as the yellow-crowned parakeet – we heard the screech of a kākā!
Sandy Bay Hut
Continuing past the shelter after taking the Lake Waikareiti Track, another three hours’ walking will bring you to Sandy Bay Hut. The hut sleeps 18 and must be booked in advance through DOC. From here, you can apparently see views of Lake Waikareiti in the foreground and Lake Waikaremoana in the distance on a clear day.
I am a sucker for a waterfall (aren’t they just mesmerising?!) There’s a good few short walking tracks that start near the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre and offer beautiful views of some of the most magical waterfalls you’ll ever see. Mother Nature at her finest.
- Hinerau Track: An easy 30 minute loop walk which offers stunning views of the three waterfalls that, together, create the Aniwaniwa Falls: Momahaki Falls, Te Tangi-o-Hinerau Falls and the Bridal Veil waterfall.
- Aniwaniwa Falls Track: A 20 minute return walk offering a closer view of the Falls.
- Papakorito Falls: A two minute drive or 1 hour (1.5km each way) return walk from the Visitor Centre brings you to the based of these spectacular falls.
Where to stay
There are a number of DOC Campsites dotted around Lake Waikaremoana. Some cost $6pp per night (i.e. Mokau Landing), others are free (i.e. Rosie’s Bay). The DOC-run Waikaremoana Holiday Park has lots of facilities including washing machines and hot showers and costs $18pp for a powered site or $15pp for an unpowered site. There’s also Big Bush Holiday Park which offers tent sites, powered sites, backpackers dorms and self-contained accommodation. I use the Campermate app to find cheap and free campsites across NZ.
Have you ever felt completely cut off from the world? Have you visited Te Urewera?
Thanks for reading and safe travels!
All photos used in this post are my own unless otherwise stated. The title of this blog post is quoted from the ‘Hikes + Walks – Out East’ leaflet, printed 2013.